Zalmay Khalilzad and the Bush Agenda
by Jennifer Van Bergen

t r u t h o u t | January 13, 2001 - The appointment by the Bush Administration of Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy to Afghanistan which was announced on December 31, 2001, only nine days after the U.S.-backed interim government of Hamid Karzai took office in Kabul, seems timely and logical. Khalilzad, a U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan with extensive knowledge of the region and experience, appears to be the right person for the job.

Khalilzad's presence, however, is the fruit of an older agenda, one that reaches back at least to the Reagan era, and Khalilzad has more connections to that agenda than meets the eye.

Simply put, Khalilzad's appointment means oil. Oil for the United States. Oil for Unocal, a U.S. company long criticized for doing business in countries with repressive governments and rumored to have close ties to the Department of State and the intelligence community.

Zalmay Khalilzad was an advisor for Unocal. In the mid 1990s, while working for the Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Khalilzad conducted risk analyses for Unocal at the time it had signed letters of approval from the Taliban. The analyses were for a proposed 890-mile, $2-billion, 1.9-billion-cubic-feet-per-day natural gas pipeline project which would have extended from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. In December 1997, Khalilzad joined Unocal officials at a reception for an invited Taliban delegation to Texas.


Unocal, the world's ninth largest oil company according to the National Center for Policy Research, but according to the Los Angeles Times, smaller than America's "most powerful energy companies," has long been criticized for doing business with repressive foreign governments. Legal action was brought against Unocal in 1997 by Burmese refugees for human rights abuses which the refugees claimed were committed by the Burmese military hired by Unocal to protect their operations.

Unocal has also been criticized for its business dealings in this country. A 1998 petition signed by Environmental, Human Rights and Women's Groups, asked California Attorney General to revoke Unocal's Charter, citing Unocal's record as a "repeat offender" of environmental, labor and deceptive practices laws. The petition claimed that Unocal was principally responsible for the notorious 1969 oil blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel and has since then polluted multiple sites from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Petitioners claimed that Unocal committed hundreds of violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, treated U.S. workers unethically and unfairly, engaged in a pattern of illegal deceptions of the courts, stockholders and the public, and "usurped political power," undermining U.S. foreign policy.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Exxon filed a report in August 2001 with antitrust regulators which states that Unocal "subverted the standard-setting process" of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "to obtain unlawful monopoly profits." The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating a questionable patent Unocal obtained behind the backs of CARB and oil competitors after Unocal sat in on official meetings to establish cleaner-burning gasoline. FTC investigators say that the patent may have contributed to last summer's Midwest gasoline crisis.

Other reports cite Unocal's open support of "the most brutal dictatorship" in Asia, General Suharto of Indonesia, where Unocal is one of the largest oil companies, a $5.5 million legal settlement of a citizens suit filed by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund against Unocal for pouring poisonous wastewater into the San Francisco Bay, and Unocal's attempts to intimidate two native tribes in Montana into renewing its pipeline lease without basic environmental protections.

There have been some claims that Unocal was getting briefings from the Department of State. Unocal denied any connection beyond that which a company doing business overseas would obtain from the DOS. However, a look at some of Unocal's CEOs and board members shows strong government ties. Charles Larson, former Commander in Chief of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Command sits on the board. So does Donald Rice, a former colleague of Khalilzad's at RAND Corp., who was Secretary of the Air force under Bush I. And Robert Oakley, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan during the time the CIA was funneling money and weapons through the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) to Afghan muhajeeden in the 1980s, later the U.S. special envoy to Somalia, worked subsequently for Unocal.


Unocal was the "Development Manager" of the Centgas consortium. The purpose of Centgas was to build an 890-mile-long pipeline from Turkmenistan through Aghanistan to Pakistan.

Centgas, or the Central Asia Gas and Pipeline Consortium, was a group formed in the mid-1990s which was made up of the government of Turkmenistan and six international companies: Delta Oil Company (Saudi Arabia), Indonesia Petroleum, ITOCHU Oil Exploration Co. (Japan), Hyandai Engineering & Construction Co. (South Korea), Crescent Group (Pakistan) and Gazprom (Russia). Unocal owned nearly half of the shares of Centgas.

As Centgas' Development Manager, Unocal opened talks with the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. To show its good will, Unocal donated money to CARE projects in Afghanistan and provided support for earthquake relief efforts. (According to the CIA World Factbook, damaging earthquakes are known to occur in the Hindu Kush mountains, which run across the center of the country.)

According to L.A. Weekly, Unocal also gave nearly a million dollars to the University of Nebraska's Center for Afghan Studies, which Unocal stated was not used to "provide pipeline constructions skills training." Unocal said the money was used to provide "basic job skills training and education" for Afghans and elementary schooling for their children. However, according to the Asia Times, the Center for Afghan Studies also at one time produced a study of oil and gas reserves in Central Asia, placing their total worth at around US$3 trillion. Thus, the Center was not only interested in helping Afghans obtain basic education and job skills.

Thomas E. Gouttierre, the director of the Center for Aghan Studies, is an old friend of Zalmay Khalilzad. In fact, Gouttierre coached Khalilzad on a high school basketball team when "Zal" first visited America as an exchange student.

The Clinton administration offered backing for Unocal's Centgas project, but after the U.S. bombed Aghanistan in 1998 in retaliation for the Embassy bombings, Unocal withdrew from the consortium, citing "sharply deteriorating political conditions."

Unocal stated that it would only participate in a Centgas pipeline project "when and if" Aghanistan achieved the "peace and stability necessary to obtain financing from international agencies and a government that is recognized by the United States and the United Nations." In February 1999, Unocal denied reports published in Pakistan that it was considering rejoining Centgas, and Unocal continues to state on its Homepage that it has no plans to return to the consortium. Unocal spokesman, Mike Thatcher, stated last October that "We're not going to do it, but sooner or later, someone will."

However, it is clear that the December 5, 2001 "Bonn Agreement," which establishes an interim Aghani government overseen by the United Nations, will fulfill Unocal's prerequisite of an "internationally recognized government." One representative of the Turkmenistan embassy told L.A. Weekly, "So we are hoping that once peace is restored in Afghanistan, building these pipeliness will again become a priority."


Khalilzad's appointment as special envoy to Afghanistan raises suspicions about the priorities of the Bush administration. Long-standing political and business ties connect Khalilzad to an oil agenda. The United States has been bombing Afghanistan in retaliation for terrorist attacks on this country. But Khalilzad's appointment makes it clear that oil is now -- and perhaps has been since before 9/11 -- behind U.S. Afghan policy.

Zalmay Khalilzad was born about 50 years ago in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, 70 miles south of the Soviet border. While he was still young, his family moved to Kabul, where his Pashtun father worked in the government, which was then a monarchy, and Zalmay attended English-language schools.

According to Thomas E. Gouttierre, the director for the Unocal-funded Center for Afghan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the Khalilzad family "certainly would have been people among the intellectual elite of the time."

Gouttierre met Zalmay when the young Afghani first visited the United States as an exchange student through the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker charitable organization. Gouttierre coached him in basketball.

He returned to Afghanistan to complete his high school, but earned his undergraduate degree from the American University in Beirut. At that time, Beirut was still the "Paris of the Middle East."

Khalilzad obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1979 (the same year the Soviets invaded his homeland), where, according to the New York Times News Service, "he became the protege of a famous hard-line strategic thinker." There he also met an Austrain woman, Cheryl Benard, whom he married. Benard writes novels and co-wrote a book about revolutionary Iran with Zalmay

In the early 1980s, Zalmay taught political science at Columbia University in New York, where he worked with Zbigniew Brzezinski. He was also executive director of the Friends of Afghanistan, a support group for the mujaheddins fighting the Soviets -- the same mujuaheddins later known to have spawned bin Laden.

In 1984, Khalilzad became an American citizen and joined the State Department on a one-year fellowship. Khalilzad's background and language skills earned him a permanent position on the State Department's Policy Planning Council during the Reagen era. There he worked under Paul Wolfowitz, then Reagan's director of policy planning, now the No. 2 man at the Pentagon. In 1998, the two, having retained close ties, joined others in signing an open letter to Clinton that argued for the overthrow of Saddam.

From 1985 to 1989, Zalmay served as special adviser to the undersecretary of state. He belonged to a small group of policymakers who advocated providing arms to the "resistance" fighters in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad then consulted for the Rand Corp., a conservative think tank, on defense issues and returned to Washington when Bush I took office, taking up the post of assistant deputy under-secretary of defense for policy planning. Again he worked closely with Wolfowitz, then the Pentagon's No. 3 official.

He also got to know Dick Cheney at the Defense Department during the Gulf War.

During the Clinton years, Khalilzad returned to Rand and spent his time writing books and articles. After Bush II was elected, Cheney selected himm to head the transition team for defense. In May 2001, Bush appointed him the National Security Council official in charge of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. His direct superior was Condoleeza Rice, the national security adviser, who herself had served as an oil consultant for Chevron.


Khalilzad's critics point out that Zalmay, who gave a speech upon his arrival in Kabul condemning the Taliban, had at one time, as a paid adviser to oil multinational Unocal, courted and defended them. Indeed, Khalilzad has changed his tune so often that one analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, Anatol Lieven, said, "If he was in private business rather than government, he would have been sacked long ago."

But Khalilzad has long and consistently argued that America ignored Afghanistan at its peril. In an article that appeared in the winter 2000 issue of the Washington Quarterly, co-authored by Rand colleague Daniel Byman, Khalilzad and Byman issued a stern warning about Afghanistan being "a haven for some of the world's most lethal anti-U.S. terrorists" who "pose a threat to U.S. soliders and civilians at home and abroad, to the Middle East peace process, and to the stability of our allies in the region." The two recommended taking measures to weaken the Taliban and support the Northern Alliance.

As Jacob Weisberg pointed out in a recent article on Slate News, "What's remarkable about Khalilzad's recommendations ...... isn't just how tragically prophetic they look in the light of Sept. 11. It's how closely they track the Bush administration's emerging Afghan policy."

Another writer points out how "little has been said in the media about the promiment role being played in Afghan policy by officials who advised the oil industry on Central Asia."

According to an article on an Islamic website, the December 5th "Bonn Agreement," which formed the U.N.-supervised interim government in Afghanistan, "consolidates American control over Afghanistan and lays the basis for uprooting Islam from it." The author claims that "America was not content with achieving the five aims announced by Bush to the masses before Congress shortly before the declaration of war against Afghanistan. Instead she went much further than this. The American government has begun to impose its actual mandate over Afghanistan under the cover of the United Nations and works to create a new Afghanistan, infuse it with western culture, [and] strengthen its chains to the hated wheel of American colonialism."

"America has disregarded the leaders of the tribes, the people of influence, position and standing in Afghanistan and replaced them with a handful of traitorous agents, the majority of which are westerners infatuated by the western culture," the Islamic writer states.

If the purpose of the bombing of Afghanistan, the purpose of the Bonn Agreement, the purpose of Khalilzad's appointment, is oil, should Americans be advised of our government's intentions? If this is the writing in the sand, and if our troops risk their lives for this, and thousands if not millions of Afghanis suffer and die, and millions of Muslims become even more alienated and angry, all for oil, where is the ballot box for us to place our vote in, where is Congress?

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© : t r u t h o u t 2001

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